This year marks the 40th anniversary of reform and opening-up in China. The China-US relationship has also witnessed profound changes. Today, more than 300,000 students from China’s mainland are studying at US universities, and nearly 3 million Chinese tourists travel to the US every year. The two countries have become important partners in many areas and both have benefited from cooperation with each other.
However, the relationship is not without difficulties. The US has become increasingly concerned about China, defining Beijing as a strategic competitor which, presumably, challenges American interests and influence and erodes its security and prosperity. Recently the US is threatening tough trade measures against China, putting more strain on the relationship.
The question is: where does the US administration want to take our relations?
After the end of the Cold War, the US continued to overstretch its military might for ideological, economic, and security purposes, which hasn’t produced its intended result. Apparently, the US is now considering strategic retrenchment.
When the US started the Iraq War in 2003, China’s GDP was only one ninth that of the US. Ten years later when the US started to withdraw, China’s GDP was already half of that of the US, making it the second largest economy of the world. Should the current trajectory continue, it will only be a matter of time before China catches up with the US. This prospect has made some Americans deeply worried.
Now China is getting closer to the world’s center stage. For centuries, different shows with the same old script have been performed here. The challenge for China is how to find its proper role.
The old script is mostly about power struggles which have not left mankind with good memories. From the self-destructive Peloponnesian War in ancient times to the two devastating world wars in the 20th century, such great power conflicts have been staged again and again.
According to the old script of inevitable power struggles, some in the US have started to see China as a rival and a threat. Thucydides warned that, what made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta. Are we feeling the gravitational force of the “Thucydides Trap” once again?
Not so at least on the part of the Chinese. With a sense of equanimity, we are convinced that China-US cooperation is in the fundamental interests of both countries and conducive to world peace and development.
Those who try to make forecasts about China need to note that the Chinese have rich experience and knowledge about war and peace. For example, when the Peloponnesian War was unfolding 2,400 years ago, China was in the Spring Autumn Warring States Period (770 BC-221 BC), with feudal lords vying for power.
Like in ancient Greece, China was witnessing huge social transformation driven by booming new ideas and innovation. This period saw the rise of intellectual excellence including Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism. This period was also included in the “Axial Age” by German philosopher Karl Jaspers, which refers to the time in which all foundations that underlie modern civilization came into being.
Civilization leaves its marks on mankind. And the heritage of Chinese civilization is to treasure peace and stability, instead of believing in the inevitability of great power conflict. For example, Confucius said that “peace is precious.” And he called for exercising caution before waging a war. Mencius said that “a just cause attracts much support, while an unjust one finds little.” Even Sun Tzu, the great military strategist, believed that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
“Peace and prosperity” has always been the goal of the Chinese nation. In today’s China, for example, the strategic thinking is defensive in nature, which has its roots in tradition.
However, we Chinese have a bitter memory of modern history. For over a century China suffered the humiliation of foreign aggression. The lesson was bitter and the nation is determined to have a strong defense so this doesn’t recurr. Peace needs to be defended with adequate capabilities.
The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held last autumn concluded that socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era. Thanks to the leadership of the Party and the hard work of the Chinese people, China has achieved marked success and we are getting closer to realizing the Chinese dream.
However, China still faces an up-hill journey towards modernization. For example, we need to lift the remaining 30 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 years. Addressing environmental degradation is also urgent, as is improving governance through strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption. The list is long and for a relatively long period of time, China must focus on its domestic development with the goal of helping every family and every individual to achieve a decent standard of living.
To achieve its development objectives, China needs a peaceful external environment. We are increasingly aware of the responsibility we need to shoulder for the world and the expectations and concerns of the world. We need to communicate our views and intentions in a prompt and convincing manner, so that the world can better understand us.
At the Boao Forum for Asia which I just attended, President Xi Jinping delivered a very important speech. He made it clear to the world that China’s door will not close and will only open even wider. China will adopt some major measures to pursue further opening, including significantly broadening market access, creating a more attractive investment environment, strengthening the protection of intellectual property rights and expanding imports. In short, China will enter a new phase of opening-up.
These policies and measures also provide inspiration to address the challenges in the China-US relationship. China and the US have been important partners over the years. It is in the interest of both sides to maintain this partnership and find mutually acceptable solutions to problems. We stand to gain by working together. We would both lose should we enter into confrontation, be it over trade or anything else.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has put forward the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind.
The world stage needs a new script. The new generation should be able to go beyond the traditional mindsets of power politics. After all, the young people are the ones who will write the history of tomorrow and will make the future even brighter.